I’ve described the registrar persona previously. I’m certain many of them pretend to be more confidence, decisive and assertive than they really are. To a point where they are almost unpleasant. Everyday, I find myself acting too. Whilst I may stand my ground in the unpleasant interactions with medical staff (mostly over referrals) and non medical staff (mostly because you don’t have time to attend to all the pages you receive), these are the things that I feel sad about at the end of the day. It’s like when people were mean to you at school, except when you grow up you learn to hide your feelings better. I also wonder if I have become cold or unpleasant.
We watch people suffer, people die, and talk about such things in a matter of fact way. We spend much time encouraging patients through their illnesses, and being the ones they and their families look to for reassurance, even in the face of death. I may (hopefully) say the appropriate words, with enough warmth but enough detachment as their doctor. But I feel like I’m acting too. Because the unpredictability of illness and death scares me as much as it scares them. I’m not impermeable to grief – I still cry when I see mourning families, or chance upon a lovingly written obituary of one of my patients. Except growing up, you push the sadness aside, to deal with at a more convenient time.
With physical illness there is often so much despair too. Patients saying that they have had enough, that there is nothing for them to live for. Or it could be that they have come in with self harm or suicidal attempts in the first place. Not sure if it helps at all, but we (sometimes) listen, point out the positive things in their lives, or the positive progress to their recovery. Or we give them medications, refer them to the relevant people, and make plans regarding their depression. On bad days, I listen to their darkness and think “is it just because I am paid to do so that I am sitting on this side and you on the other, because I feel the same way about life as you do”. But I pretend, because it isn’t the time or place to do otherwise.
So often I feel like I am only pretending to be grown up. I sit in little chairs around low tables with primary school aged children, colouring in butterflies, folding frogs, making mice families with play dough, and know that I might be accompanying them but I also enjoy doing the same things as much as they do. At the hospital, instead of being someone who has the knowledge, emotional stability and life experiences to handle these heavy matters of illness and death, I feel like I’m a little girl pretend playing doctor.